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Language and cultural barriers must be overcome and understood. To succeed, you have to run your business intending to cater to high-end clients of all different nationalities and beliefs.
Amy Yan, owner of AmyExpress in Hong Kong, started her company with the desire to not only deliver impeccable service, but use her university education to help provide a service few other luxury transportation businesses in China can: Chauffeurs and staff with a firm grasp of the English language.
East Meets West
AmyExpress runs in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, some of the most prominent financial centers in Asia. The cities draw many American business travelers regardless of whether or not they can speak Chinese or Japanese.
Yan says 99.99% of drivers in mainland China cannot speak English. This is changing as the newer, more educated generation joins the workforce, however. To put things in perspective, Yan’s parents learned Russian instead of English because they were living in China during the Socialist Transformation under Chairman Mao with Soviet influence. In 1978, China’s Open Door policy began, but those who did learn English didn’t practice enough to retain it.
“Those who can speak it now could easily settle on a much better job than driving,” she says. “Some companies may claim they have English-speaking drivers, but most end up disappointing their clients.”
While AmyExpress offers English-speaking chauffeurs, it cannot guarantee them for every ride. If this happens, the company informs the chauffeur of detailed itineraries well in advance to ensure they understand the situation.
Location: Hong Kong
Owner: Amy Yan
Year Founded: 2008
Vehicle Type: executive and luxury sedans and vans
Fleet Size: 23
Phone: +852 6736 6120
In addition, staff leverages technology to maintain real-time contact with chauffeurs and enable them to communicate with passengers.
The company provides training and learning material each month to teach chauffeurs basic English skills. This involves practicing common scenarios chauffeurs may encounter with clients at the airport and hotels. English translator apps help them communicate with passengers when needed, and AmyExpress includes a small card with an English support number for clients wrapped around the water bottles in each vehicle.
Another difference between the U.S. and Asian chauffeured markets is the U.S. has a more mature and competitive industry. “You can easily find many qualified operators in metropolitan cities like New York; this is not the case in Hong Kong and China. As of the end of 2016, there were only about 300 vehicles with valid limousine permits in Hong Kong. The average age of their vehicles is 5.8 years, and about 40% are seven years or older,” Yan explains.
In mainland China, chauffeured service is still a new concept in a very early stage of growth because the history of personal car ownership is short — it only came about within the past two decades. “Here we don’t have limousine associations like the NLA, as there is a lack of commonly agreed industry standards. No voice can be heard by the government,” she says.
Yan started her career as a credit manager and never planned to run a chauffeured service company before AmyExpress was founded in 2008. To have more time with her children, she quit her job and signed up for the Masters of Finance program at the University of Hong Kong, where the idea for AmyExpress was born.
During a classroom discussion with some financial professionals, she realized they had concerns about reliable, qualified, and efficient chauffeur service for their roadshows and business travel. Yan and a fellow classmate were inspired to address these concerns.
The more time and effort she spent, the more confident she became about adding value to society with premium services to meet market needs and create jobs for those in need.
“Many car service operators do not have the privilege of being fluent in English or have the technology know-how to catch up with the ever evolving ground transportation industry,” she explains. That’s why she has ensured all of the company’s internal operational staff are university graduates fluent in English. “This may sound like a very basic requirement to our U.S. affiliates, but with a 99% non-English speaking population here in China, we are indeed one of the very few.”
For chauffeur training, the company provides monthly education in technology such as LimoAnywhere, standard procedures like pre-journey vehicle checks and accident reporting, and emergency procedures. These sessions help AmyExpress churn out seasoned chauffeurs like Charlie Yang, 45, who has 20 years of experience and works in Beijing.
“Before he joined us 10 years ago, he was a taxi driver working for a state-owned company and could barely speak any English. Since being hired at AmyExpress, and thanks to his own hard work, he has won client recognitions and become the first choice for many roadshow jobs for investment bankers such as Barclays and Credit Suisse. He is incredibly confident in his English speaking abilities.”
Yan takes her role as a businesswoman just as seriously as her role as a mother; she has two daughters, Imogene, 12, and Carey, 7, and one son, Maxwell, 9. She treats AmyExpress as another one of her children. “One day your kids will grow up and leave to live their own lives; AmyExpress will stay with me. I’d suggest other young women start planning their ‘after-kid’ career sooner rather than later. New tech enables me to work from home effectively and efficiently, and helps me achieve a good work-life balance,” she explains.
As her business grows, she hopes to add new vehicles and hire new chauffeurs while also promoting her global chauffeured service to Chinese business executives traveling to the rest of the world. Another goal she has is to build a call center to seamlessly connect their main operational centers in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.
“The time difference between the U.S. and China can sometimes be a big challenge,” she says. “I want to turn this into a big advantage by collaborating with affiliates in the States to consider AmyExpress an extension of their night shift by helping them check vehicle status and assisting passengers with finding their chauffeurs.”
Another innovation she’s pursuing is to hire disabled staff and offer them an opportunity to work from home. It’s another example of how AmyExpress tries to fulfill its mission of “Driving for a Better Society.” Yan hopes to make the company as profitable as possible so she can afford to create more jobs.
“Giving back to society is one of the ways we are trying to help build a better society,” she says.
The company donates to the University of Hong Kong to support financial aid programs that provide underprivileged students with a chance to receive an education. They have also signed up and offered financial support for “Let’s Walk Together,” a campaign organized by CareER. The nonprofit organization helps students and graduates with disabilities transition from school to career development.
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